The Sri Lankan army has launched a probe after a viral image on social media showed a row of men kneeling in front of soldiers for reportedly violating the Covid-19 lockdown.
“The Sri Lanka Army after an alleged improper conduct of a few Army personnel in Eravur area was brought to the notice, immediately removed the Army personnel involved from their duties,” said a statement by Sri Lanka’s army on Sunday.
Sri Lanka recently extended its lockdown in an effort to contain a third wave of infections and has recorded nearly 240 000 cases, and more than 2,500 deaths.
The army claimed that an “initial military police investigation has already commenced after certain photos went viral depicting an alleged harassment, meted out on a group of civilians in one corner of a street in Eravur area.”
The army said that the officer-in-charge was also removed “with immediate effect”.
“Upon completion of thorough investigations, the army would adopt strictest disciplinary action against all errant army personnel”, it said.
According to local reports, the incident took place on Saturday in Eravur town in Batticaloa district, in eastern Sri Lanka. The viral images showed men kneeling on a road in front of soldiers with their hands stretched up. They were reportedly being punished for violating Covid-19 lockdown.
The locals said the incident has heightened fears in Eravur town.
Mohammed Ismail Marzook, 44, a daily wage earner, told The Hindu: “I just went on my bicycle to buy my diabetes medicines at our local pharmacy, and a little bit of rice nearby. I even showed the empty box of my pills, but the soldiers forced me to kneel down right there along with some others, with my hands raised.”
“I explained to them in Sinhala that I am a patient, and that I stepped out only to buy medicines, which is allowed,” he added. “But they wouldn’t listen, and kept beating me, like they would cattle,” he said while adding that the last thing he expected was to be “beaten and humiliated”.
Easwaran Rutnam, managing editor of Colombo Gazette news agency, tweeted: “If true this is very disturbing.”
“Tamil media have published images allegedly of troops in Eravur forcing people who violated the travel restrictions to kneel and raise their hands. Hope the authorities look into this,” he had said on Saturday.
While Ambika Satkunanathan, who is the former commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, tweeted that the “punishment meted out by the military can constitute degrading treatment or punishment.”
She said that Article 11 of Sri Lanka’s constitution “prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is also an offence under the Convention Against Torture Act.”